Had a brilliant weekend at the NVSDC Beginner's Bootcamp!
J and I drove up with our four dogs on Saturday morning, to the property of the M family just outside of scenic Myrtleford. A very kind thing to have dozens of people come and camp on their land, with as many as sixteen dogs per camp site! Fortunately, their chickens and other livestock were left unmolested... despite the rooster's early morning greeting!
The agenda for the day was to introduce newbies like me to some of the information, training ideas and skills used for sled dog racing in Australia. The committee, led by the lovely E, had organised a number of people to speak about equipment, training, rules of racing and lead workshops on different skills.
The first workshop concentrated on training a dog to become accustomed to a harness, using a double ended lead with a correction collar at one end and the tug line (tail end of the harness) loop at the other. Very importantly, the speakers carefully explained the correct use of the correction collar (aka Choker chain) so that it provided an immediate correction AND an immediate reward for correct behaviour. They also advised that it be positioned very high up, right under the lower jaw, to maximise the effect, so that less pressure is needed. At the other end of the double ended lead, the trainer had to maintain consistent pressure on the end of the harness, pulling through to accustom the dog to the experience. Then the correction collar could be used to encourage the dog to "walk", "easy", "gee", "haw" (or right and left) and so on. One of the key ideas that the trainers were keen to emphasize was the important skill to pass other dogs or ignore distractions, so the commands "on by" and "leave" were echoing around the campsite for a while.
The second workshop was on "pull training" - an important way to help dogs learn how to pull a scooter or rig through their harness. The "demo dog", a lovely show dog called Gamble, an Alaskan Malamute, had never pulled anything before, and was a little concerned about the tyre bumping along behind him, leading to some funny jumps to see what was behind him. He was a lot more comfortable when the tyre was replaced by a person, who could walk along at a steady pace. Then J brought Czar up to show how a trained dog would react to the command. The little blighter immediately leaned into harness and towed the tyre quickly across the open space. Not all the dogs were as comfortable, with several sitting on their haunches and protesting vociferously!
After that, it was time to try the dogs with scooters. We took them out to a long paddock with a skinny loop track, and practised passing each other without letting the dogs interfere with each other. I was silly and forgot to grab a helmet, but Czar and I had a lovely loop around the track without any issues.
Then I went and got Frankie. Um.... not so smooth! First of all he tried to sniff a grumpy male Mallie, and then when I got him running, he swerved repeatedly back and forth across the track for most of the way up the track. Once we got round the bend, Frankie suddenly started running... I guess he eventually figured out that he could run without Czar and Bolo to keep in a straight line? Of course, before I could celebrate too much, Frankie saw J, standing beside the track, and decided to go visit his daddy!
After the final workshop, it was time for the pros to play - after giving all us newbies lots of help all day, it was time for them to take the big teams out. After a quick sight seeing trip to check out the track, we got two Norrstarr teams, a Snofall team, J with our boys plus Snofall's Chermani, as well as several Mallie teams, out to circle the property. The trail was quite challenging - not much in the way of a trail in parts, which was a great challenge for the lead dogs to pick the best path through the grasses, not to mention creek crossings and strange cows!
Then it was time for dinner and chatting around the campfire, before we went to bed, ready for an early start the next day.